On 6 August The National Museum of the Royal Navy will open HMS M.33 to the public for the first time in her history following a distinctive and extensive conservation project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Come the centenary of her launch, HMS M.33 will be the only First World War warship to allow visitors to walk her decks this year.
HMS M.33 is positioned in No.1 Dry Dock at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, alongside HMS Victory and the Mary Rose Museum.
HMS M.33 is the only surviving Navy ship from the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign and, as such, holds great historic importance. This is despite the fact she was constructed and sent into service so speedily that she did not even warrant a name. Fabricated in just seven weeks she was one of nearly 40 ‘monitors’ built in a rapid construction campaign following the outbreak of First World War.
Although the Gallipoli Campaign claimed 100,000 lives of personnel from all round the world, M.33 was considered a lucky ship and, despite being showered by shell splinters, she suffered no casualties.
Whilst in service HMS M.33 housed 67 men and five officers for over three years. Starved of home comforts, the men lived in her 568 ton metal shell underneath two powerful and oversize 6” guns. With a top speed of just 9 knots and a shallow draft HMS M.33 was not built for comfort or speed but to allow her to get close-in to shore and fire at targets on land.
The visitor experience surrounding HMS M.33 will be unlike that of any other historic ship. Visitors will have the unusual experience of descending 6m to the bottom of the dock, before stepping aboard the ship. Public access to the dry docks has previously been limited, but the opening of HMS M.33 will allow the Museum to showcase an 1801 dock that put Portsmouth at the centre of the Navy’s power. The platform at the base of the dock will allow an unseen and dramatic viewpoint of HMS M.33’s bow, flat bottom and the dry dock itself.
The unadorned interior of the ship lends itself to an original way of presenting the exhibits inside. Visitors will enter an immersive battle experience, powerfully evoking life aboard the vessel. The cavernous Engine Room will house a digital projection of the Gallipoli Campaign unfolding, that is projected directly onto the historic hull. This dramatic presentation sites alongside restored areas which give an authentic impression of 1915, allowing visitors to engage with the history of the vessel, as well as the stories of those who lived on board.